Norman Rockwell’s Mad Men Moment

Norman Rockwell’s work isn’t my thing. I find his paintings too saccharine, his subjects’ innocence too forced. And I wasn’t alive during his heyday, so the appeal to nostalgia eludes me.

But one painting in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Telling Stories exhibit made me pause at least, mostly because it reminded me of my Sunday night obsession, Mad Men.

In “The Connoisseur,” a gray-suited man, presumably a stand-in for Rockwell, examines a Jackson Pollock painting and wonders if the generational baton has been passed. It was painted in 1962, on the cusp of the culture wars — a moment plumbed every week in the hallways of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.

I thought: yes, a glimmer of irony–there’s hope for Rockwell yet.

Okay, not exactly Don Draper-esque levels of irony, but still.

Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg runs through January 2, 2011.

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One comment

  1. There is transgression all through Rockwell’s body of work, if you know where to look.

    The most obvious example that comes to mind is this painting, which was displayed in the White House in 2011. There are background contexts of constructed identity, outsider statuses, etc in more subtle places in his work, but this is one of the pieces he produced that really delivers a punch to the gut.

    You might enjoy a book called The Underside of Innocence, by Richard Halpern.

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